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27 March 2014

Women on boards. What about the pipeline?

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Thank you Amandeep Turna, Emily Chow and Yasmina Falcone Memarian – Talking to Brunel University


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The Unsettling Reality about Talent Retention


Yesterday the Cranfield report into the proportion of women on FTSE 100 boards provoked measured praise, relief about no quotas and some naming and shaming of corporations. The ‘success’ of boards being 20.7% female is, at best, frail because the targets are focused on the boardroom and not on the pipeline.

The fact that more women take Non-executive Directorships should be no surprise. The flexibility of being Non-exec fits with a female career. Executive is often full time, full horse power and there are simply fewer women to choose from because so many leave their careers mid-way through in order to pick up caring responsibilities. This is often their choice. They might have stayed, if childcare was easier and if they could have had flexible and remote working opportunities.

How many small businesses are started up every year by women, for women, arranged around the female way of working (i.e. not nine-to-five, five-days-a-week)? The site MumpreneursUK estimates that there are 300,000 companies in the UK started by mums. When I interview these women I find flexible and remote working built into their business models. As these businesses grow they are likely to keep employees through their child-bearing years because the structure enables them to carry on working and managing family life.

Female Non-executive Directors are usually hired from the group of women that have already made it to the top of their profession and are in senior executive roles. Unless British businesses keep more women in work on a flexible basis the talent pipeline will dry up pretty soon. As Vince Cable, business secretary, said in response to the Cranfield report, “More needs to be done to improve the number of women in executive positions. These will be the chief executives of tomorrow and businesses still aren’t tapping into the vast talent pool available to them.”

We are nowhere near stemming the exodus of talented women with 12 – 15 years’ experience who, after a second child, can’t make the daily commute or even the four day commute work for them anymore. They also can’t bear the inefficiency of working in that way. Enlightened businesses will change their model so that more women can work from home two to three days a week and come into the office three to two days a week. Enlightened businesses will create new jobs for flexible working – currently, most flexible working roles are adapted by companies for current employees and very few are created.

Many women choose not to get to the top of their profession because it means sacrificing too much on the home front. Women generally are not as interested in power as men. But they are interested in being in control and in charge. This is why so many of them opt out of corporate life and set up their own businesses.

Note to self: If I was the MD of a FTSE 250 company or running a professional services firm I would get back in touch with all my alumni that have felt compelled to leave my business over the last 10 years after having their second child. I’d find out where they are living and get them all together. I’d look at the work my business is about to outsource to India and see if it wouldn’t be more intelligent to allow my loyal and already trained alumni to manage these tasks remotely, saving me overheads and giving me the comfort that the values of my business are being upheld and the work is being executed to the highest level by people who  have  already been part of the (company) family.

Posted by Amanda Fone